We wrap up our annual depth series with a look at Montreal’s organizational depth at right wing. There’s a stark contrast between what the Canadiens have compared to their prospect pool.
Signed: Josh Anderson, Joel Armia, Cole Caufield, Brendan Gallagher, Tyler Toffoli
It can be argued that Gallagher is now the go-to veteran leader with Shea Weber out of the lineup for the long haul. He’s beginning a new six-year contract, one that certainly made up for the bargain he was playing on for the previous six seasons. He’ll be without long-time centre Phillip Danault for the first time in a long time with Danault moving to Los Angeles in free agency so it will be interesting to see how Dominique Ducharme opts to deploy Gallagher. Does he move him into more of an offensive-minded role or will he remain on the two-way line that often goes against top opponents? That’s going to be an interesting storyline heading into training camp.
Toffoli has said in the past that he feels he’s better on his natural wing but things didn’t exactly play out that way as he had a career year in the goal department (in terms of goals per game) while playing mostly on the left side. With someone having to shift to the off-wing again next season, he seems like the logical candidate to do so at this point.
Anderson is a unique player for the Habs with his combination of size and speed but slowed down offensively after a hot start to the season. He was largely quiet in the playoffs as well and it looks like while he’s being paid to be a primary offensive threat, he probably is miscast in that role. He spent a bit of time on his off-wing as well last season including in the playoffs and is the other viable candidate to shift over.
Then there’s Caufield. He doesn’t have much NHL experience under his belt but after some strong play in the playoffs including some critical goals, he’s a safe bet for a spot in the top six next season, likely alongside Nick Suzuki who he played with for most of the playoffs. At this point, he’s also a strong contender for the Calder Trophy.
Armia is who he is at this point. There are games where he can take over but those are few and far between. The rest of the time, he’s an effective defensive player whose play on the boards in the playoffs made a significant impression, helping him earn a four-year deal in the process. His spot is likely to be on the fourth line when everyone is healthy which makes him an expensive luxury but a quality one.
Needs Assessment: Low – There are some positions where things are just pretty well set. This is one of them.
Signed: Alex Belzile, Jesse Ylonen
AHL Contracts: Shawn St. Amant
AHL Free Agents: None
There aren’t many players here but the returnees are both good ones. Belzile isn’t going to be pushing for a full-time spot with the Habs but he’s a legitimate top-liner for the Rocket and should be able to pass through waivers in training camp to get back to Laval. He can also hold his own in a recall situation.
Ylonen had a decent rookie season with Laval and showed flashes of the top-six upside the Habs hope he ultimately has. He’ll need to spend the full year with the Rocket and if everything went according to plan, he’d bump Belzile down to the second line by the end of the season.
St. Amant is someone that’s likely headed for Trois-Rivieres. He has been able to hold his own in a limited role in the AHL but is much more effective at the ECHL level. He also played in Romania last season and I don’t think I’ve ever written that about someone affiliated with the Habs before. He’s extra depth, nothing more.
Needs Assessment: Medium – While the cupboard looks thin, there are centres that can shift to the right side and Laval has a surplus of left wingers, some of which will need to shift across. There are enough options but an extra natural on the right wing wouldn’t hurt either.
One downside of going centre-heavy in the draft is that there aren’t a lot of natural wingers in the system. Of the two players below, both are natural centres but are likelier to wind up on the wing when all is said and done.
Joshua Roy was the top pick in the 2019 QMJHL draft as a big, talented centre but through two seasons, he hasn’t been able to do much yet. He was a bit better following a midseason trade but also spent a good chunk of the year on the wing. There’s some upside but big question marks as to whether or not he can improve enough to get to that level.
Blake Biondi was a high-scoring high schooler but that didn’t translate to much success in his freshman year at Minnesota-Duluth where he was largely on the fourth line and also spent time on the wing. He is one of those ‘tools’ picks where the hope is that he’s able to put enough of them together to become a quality prospect. Until then, he remains a long-term project.
Needs Assessment: Low – This may seem surprising considering the lack of quality options here but look at Montreal’s roster. The five players the Habs have on the right wing are signed or under team control for the next three years at a minimum with four of them being four years or longer. Ylonen has NHL upside and plenty of team control left. It’s not an overly pressing need right now and probably won’t be for a while so if there’s a spot to get away with a dearth of decent options, it’s this one.
(Post-draft and free agency)
(Before the draft and free agency)